SEmG

Southern Named Trains
"Night Ferry"

The "Night Ferry" was unique amongst British trains in that the coaches crossed to the continent by train ferry meaning passengers would board their train in Victoria and remain in their coach until it arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris. In some ways it could be said to be the night-time version of the "Golden Arrow" though the stock was from the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits, built to the British loading gauge expressly for this service.
 
The Night Ferry photographed passing through the up platform at Folkestone Junction station. The engines are not individually identifiable but the pilot engine is a Maunsell L1 class 4-4-0 whilst the train engine is a D1 class4-4-0. The L1's running plate is lined out which means that the photograph was taken prior to WWII.

Is this the inaugral up train? The Night Ferry would have passed through Folkestone Junction at around 7:05 - 7:45 (depending on which timetable was in use at the time) and this begs the question: why would someone go out with a camera that early on what was almost certainly a cold pre-war morning to photograph a passing train unless it was to snap the inaugural working of a new and very unusual train?

photograph: Mike Morant collection

Night Ferry
 
Night Ferry The train awaiting departure from Victoria during its later years. Note that in this illustration of a Type F sleeping car there were passenger access doors at one end only. The door space at the near end contained an attendant's office, with a compartment for a boiler on the opposite side.

photograph reproduced with kind permission of Allan Trotter, Eastbank MRC

 
When the "Night Ferry" was introduced in 1936 there was nothing new about train-ferries, though they had not previously been used in Britain for passenger trains. When first started, the service ran to Paris via Dover and Dunkirk but, obviously, did not run for long before the outbreak of WWII caused its cancellation. The first Night Ferry working was on 14th October and the motive power was L1 4-4-0 Nº1758 and D1 4-4-0 Nº1470.
 
Night Ferry
Part of Southern Railway publicity brochure for 1936.

image scan by Mike Morant.

 
The service was resurrected after the war on the same lines, then in the 1950s another route, to Brussels, was added. Fares were not cheap for the time (though they seem ridiculous by today's standards) with, in 1959, a fare of £10 18s 0d (£10.90) for a single cabin or £8 18s 0d (£8.90) per head for a two berth cabin, all in first class accomodation. The fare to Brussels was slighly less due to the shorter journey at £9 9s 6d (£9.45) and £7 16s 0d (£7.80) respectively. Lower fares were available to passengers who wanted to travel in ordinary coaches, but these did not run through so these passengers had to change from train to ferry, then from ferry to train, at odd hours during the night!
 
At the rear of the Night Ferry is an SNCF fourgon, or van. This vehicle would, of course, accompany the sleeping cars on to the ferry.

photograph reproduced with kind permission of Allan Trotter, Eastbank MRC

Night Ferry
 
The train usually consisted of up to seven sleping cars, depending on demand, plus up to seven other coaches and vans. A typical formation would have been an open second class brake at the head of the train, (with modified gangways to align with the sleeping cars), a buffet car, a corridor first, a combined buffet and kitchen car and open restaurant car then the seven sleepers, a through van for paris and another van. This consist could be far shorter during the train's later years. During the day the stock was berthed in the shed outside Victoria station and the distinctive blue and gold coaches could be easily seen from other services as they left the station.
 
Night Ferry An up train photographed as it was about to enter Shakespeare Cliff Tunnel en route to Victoria.

photograph reproduced with kind permission of Allan Trotter, Eastbank MRC

 
Departure times were 10:00 pm during the summer and 9:00 pm during winter and 48 minutes were allowed for moving the sleepers and through van onto the ferry and for getting the ferry out to sea. The sea crossing took 3 hrs 40 mins and departure time from Dunkirk ferry sation was 5:00 am, although it was 5:34 am before the first class only train left Dunkirk Town for its non-stop run to Paris, arriving at 9:00 am, exactly eleven hours after departure from Victoria. The reverse direction took a while longer with the train leaving Paris at 10:00 pm and arriving at Victoria at 9:10 am. Passengers for Brussels arrived at 8:44 am and left there for the return journey at 9:15 pm.
 
One of the train ferries used for the "Night Ferry" service was Shepperton Ferry. Built in 1935 and withdrawn in 1972, she is seen here at Dover Western Docks during July 1969. Note the size of the entrances to the train deck which, of course, had to comply with the loading gauge.

photograph reproduced with kind permission of Allan Trotter, Eastbank MRC

Night Ferry
 
The "Night Ferry" was the heaviest regular run on the Southern Region, at up to 600 tons, and in steam days was regularly double headed with, for example, a Bulleid light pacific piloted by an L1 class 4-4-0. By the time the 1960s had arrived the motive power had changed from steam to electric with the type HA locomotives, initially working the trains to Chatham then, when the electrification was complete, all the way to Dover. The "Night Ferry" lasted a lot longer than the other named trains of the Southern Region but was withdrawn on 31 October 1980, by which time the motive power was more likely to be a class 33 "Crompton" or class 73 EDL.
 
"Night Ferry" timing summer 1953      
Night Ferry

"Night Ferry" luggage label

image by Mike Morant

Victoria dep: 10.00 p.m. arr: 9.10 a.m.
Herne Hill pass: 10.09 - - - - - - - -
Beckenham Junc pass: 10.14¾ - - - - - - - -
Bickley Junc pass: 10.20½ - - - - - - - -
Swanley pass: 10.25½ - - - - - - - -
Sole Street pass: 10.35 - - - - - - - -
Rochester Bridge Junc pass: 10.42 - - - - - - - -
Chatham pass: 10.44¾ - - - - - - - -
Sittingbourne pass: 10.56½ - - - - - - - -
Faversham pass: pass: 11.03½ - - - - - - - -
Canterbury East pass: 11.17 - - - - - - - -
Shephersdwell pass: 11.32 - - - - - - - -
Buckland Junc pass: 11.38 - - - - - - - -
Dover Marine arr: 11.44 p.m. dep: 7:20 a.m.
Dunquerque arr: 5:34 a.m. dep: 1:21 a.m.
Paris (Nord) arr: 9:00 a.m. dep: 9:45 p.m.
Brussels arr: 8:44 a.m. dep: 9:15 p.m.
 
Fares London to Paris (summer 1953):

Single (available for 1 month) .... .... ... £10 16s.6d. First Class, £8 15s.9d. Second Class
Return (available for 2 months) ... ... ... £21 13s.0d. First Class, £17 11s.6d. Second Class

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This page was last updated 6 September 2010

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